The Instigator
Zerosmelt
Con (against)
Winning
44 Points
The Contender
IPOMonster
Pro (for)
Losing
16 Points

Genetically Modifying Human Beings is Unethical.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 7/3/2008 Category: Science
Updated: 9 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 6,231 times Debate No: 4577
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (5)
Votes (16)

 

Zerosmelt

Con

I used to be very much against the idea of g-modifying humans. (from here on I will use g-modify as an abbreviation for genetically modify) I will admit that it's a hard notion to swallow but now I am convinced that it is something we should pursue. To clarify I am arguing against the claim that g-modification is unethical and only that. I do not need to prove in anyway that it is actually ethical as this would be difficult since I don't believe in objective morality.

First I will define:
(a) "Genetically Modifying" as changing the genetic structure of human beings to improve their lives, liveliness, and survival ability.
(b) "Unethical" as what is considered morally wrong.

I would love to begin this debate by refuting a series of arguments. I may not be able to cover all of them in this round b/c of the character restriction but I will try. They are as follows below.
G-modification is unethical b/c:
1.) The Argument that it is Unnatural. – Claims that nature intended for us to be the way we are.
2.) The Argument Against Genetic Prejudice. – Claims society will become prejudice against non g-modified humans a la Gattaca.
3.) The Argument Against Homogeneity. – Claims that everyone will look, act, think and be identical.
4.) The Argument of Genetic Malfunction. – Claims that eventually a genetic malfunction will occur and all of humanity will perish.

I will focus the majority of this round arguing that g-modification is natural. I am looking for someone with a solid grasp of the theory of evolution as this pertains to what is natural.

Define Nature:
1.the material world, esp. as surrounding humankind and existing independently of human activities.
2. the natural world as it exists without human beings or civilization.
3. the elements of the natural world, as mountains, trees, animals, or rivers.
4. the universe, with all its phenomena.
5. the sum total of the forces at work throughout the universe.

The argument that g-modification is unnatural goes as follows:
a.)Nature created humans the way they currently exist.
b.)Nature intended to make humans in this way.
c.)G-modification of humans is changing what nature created.
d.)Changing what nature created goes against nature's intent.
e.)Going against Nature's intent is ethically wrong.
f.)Therefore G-modification of humans is ethically wrong.
Clearly a weak argument. What really sticks out to me is the falsity of premises (b) and (d). I would assert that (e) is also false but its not even worth mentioning (see the naturalistic fallacy). There are two leading theories about the nature of nature, if you will. One is basically a proven fact while the other isn't based in anything. The two theories are Evolution through Natural Selection and Intelligent Design.

Obviously there are other theories about nature such as a completely spontaneous creation; idealism and its various forms i.e. solipsism; the flying spaghetti monster etc, etc… I discount these as irrelevant since there can be no common ground made between my opponent and me.

So let's exam this. If the theory of Evolution through Natural Selection is true the premises (b) and (d) are false b/c nature does not have an intent. And If ID is true then we as mere humans could never know nature's intent. Premises (b) and (d) are therefore based merely in human presupposition and cannot be relied upon. An individual supporting ID is therefore in no position to comment on what is and isn't natural.
Also if we accept that premise (b) is true it is then easy to extrapolate that b/c nature intended for us to have large brains capable of self g-modification it must have intended for us to use them for this purpose.

A variation on the nature argument gets around the problem of nature's intention.
a.)Nature created humans the way they currently exist.
b.)Human g-modification is changing what nature created.
c.)Changing what nature created goes against nature.
d.)Nature and what it has created is Good. (for my opponents sake Good is used in the highest and/or any possible form.)
e.) Changing what is Good is unethical.
f.)Therefore changing what nature created is unethical.

Another weak argument. First of all it cannot be concluded that changing what is Good is wrong or unethical. Something that is Good can be changed and still be Good. Consider nature's own actions. Nature is constantly changing its creations so if this argument holds true, logically, nature is constantly changing what is Good. Therefore nature itself is wrong and unethical.

Another problem with this argument is that premise (c) is false. It's easy to assume that (c) is a superfluous premise but it isn't. It is there to establish that (b) is not natural. Once again nature always changes what it creates so if (c) is true it would always be going against itself. One could even argue that g-modification is natural on this simple basis.
a.)If nature always changes what it creates then it is natural to change what nature creates
b.)G-Modification changes what nature creates.
c.)Ergo g-modification is natural.

Although entirely unnecessary I will pose another argument that g-modification is natural. I'm using this simply for emphasis since it makes no ethical claims.
a.)Nature has created all the animals
b.)Humans are one kind of animal created by nature.
c.)Every act done by an animal is a part of nature.
d.)If humans g-modify themselves it is an act they have done.
e.)Therefore the g-modification of humans is a part of nature.

The argument points out the fact that we make an erroneous dichotomy between what we do and what the rest of nature does. We do not realize that we are a part of nature and that everything we do with what nature bestowed upon us is a part of nature. The lion was bestowed large claws and teeth. When the lion uses its large claws and teeth to tear through the delicate flesh of an unsuspecting fawn it is considered natural. We have been bestowed a large brain capable of g-modifying ourselves. Why then is it unnatural for us to do so? Furthermore in the eyes of evolution it is extremely arrogant to assume that nature intends for humans to be the way we are. It suggests that we are the end all and be all when humans are merely one rung in the ladder of our species just as our ape-like ancestors were.

So here is at least one reason to believe that human g-modification is not unethical.

I will get to the other rebuttals in the next round.
IPOMonster

Pro

This is my first debate, so I am a bit unfamiliar with the rules and the website. Thank you bringing up this topic!

I will open my rebuttal with this statement:

GE is unethical and dangerous because it involves taking several incalculable risks. The consequences could be devastating and irreversible. Furthermore, the adverse consequences may not appear suddenly, and they could take years to present themselves!

Here is why I believe GE is unethical:

1. CHARTING UNKNOWN WATERS - there are no guarantees as to how the GE'd human body will react, or mutate.

2. RELIGIOUS BELIEFS - For those with Religious beliefs, you are interfering with God's work.

3. REPRODUCTION - What would the product be if a "natural human" and a "genetically engineered" human mated? This even newer DNA could retard human growth, may possibly spawn something primitive, lethal, or something physically stronger, or mentally superior to both! Mutations could spin out of control. We could very well unleash and cause

4. LIFE CYCLE - All life DOES have its natural life cycle. If you increase the lifetime of human beings, you could devastate other species of plants and animals. Since we eat everything from plants and animals, we could wipe-out crops, and inadvertently wipe-out insects, or animals, that depend on those crops. The domino effects onto different plants, animals, and insects would be cataclysmic.

5. SOCIAL IMPACT – GE'd humans would in all likelihood face discrimination, revulsion, or fear by those who disagree with, or who are terrified, of genetic engineering. Since the person would have been genetically engineered, there are no guarantees that they will be able to adapt to society, form friendships, or close relationships, or conform to the laws and regulations that those in society live by.

I'll save the rest for my next rebuttal.
Debate Round No. 1
Zerosmelt

Con

Hi IPOMonster, thanks for accepting my debate. This is my first debate as well, and I sure don't know of any rules. Good Luck and may the best one win!

1. Every step in human progress has charted unknown waters, taking several incalculable risks, without a guaranteed outcome. This is intrinsically a part of what it means to progress for if we already knew everything about a given development we wouldn't be progressing. There are incalculable examples. Tools, Weapons, Fire. Surely they have been used both benignly and malignantly. Yet no one would claim that tools, fire, and weapons themselves are unethical

When fire was invented it was entirely possible for humans to burn down all of the vegetation on earth b/c no one knew what fire was. Yet fire itself is not unethical. It should be realized that technology, i.e. tools, fire, computers, or g-modification, is nothing more than having a greater degree of control over our environment. It is not accurate to claim that a technology itself is unethical. It is what people do with a technology that can be questioned ethically.

2. Religious Belief. My opponent claims that human g-modification is unethical b/c it would be interfering with God's work.

First of all this argument is just rehashing the argument from nature and changing the word nature to God. However it has one extra disadvantage. In order for this to be true my opponent must first prove the existence of God. He has done no such thing so we cannot assume that the implicit first premise, i.e. that God exists, is true. If the first premise isn't true then the rest of the argument falls apart.
Secondly my opponent claims that human g-modification would be interfering with God's work without any justification for this claim. The very definition of God prevents any human from knowing with certainty what interfering with His work would entail. I will propose that if God made everything the way he intended why then did he make genes capable of being modified at all? And why did He go one step further and give humans a brain capable of actually modifying genes? It seems far more likely that not g-modifying ourselves would be interfering with God's work not vise versa. My opponent could argue this point by saying something a kin to God gave people the ability to murder but murder is interfering with God's work. This is true but God's supposed ancient texts explicitly state that murder is wrong. There is no record of God condemning g-modification in any ancient text and since he is supposed to be omniscient he would have known that this would become an issue.
(as a side note) My opponent has cleverly phrased the argument so that g-m would be unethical "For those with Religious beliefs." If my opponent chooses to pursue this point he'd be implying that it wouldn't necessarily be unethical for those without such beliefs. This espouses a kind of ethical relativism and ethical relativism makes discourse about ethics irrelevant since they change from person to person. Besides my argument above has already clearly shown that it wouldn't necessarily be unethical for those with religious beliefs.

3/4.The third and fourth arguments posed by my opponent are just a restatement of his first argument. This is simply the Argument of Genetic Malfunction that I posed in the first round. I'm glad that I can address it now. My opponent poses a possible scenario, let's call it scenario X. I'm going to assume that if scenario X occurs it would be bad or destructive for humanity. This could be through genetic unraveling, mutant humans, environmental destruction etc. etc. My opponent doesn't provide any degree of probability for such scenarios occurring stating merely that it is possible. So the argument written out looks like this:

a.) Human g-modification creates the possibility for the destruction of humanity.
b.) Something that creates the possibility for the destruction of humanity is unethical.
c.) Therefore human GM is unethical.

It's a rather absurd argument, consider:
a.)Quantum Mechanics asserts that the nature of atoms is such that at any moment it is possible for all the atoms in planet Earth to simultaneously converge to form a singularity, i.e. a black hole.
b.)If the Earth were to suddenly become a black hole it would be the destruction of humanity
c.)The nature of atoms therefore creates the possibility for the destruction of humanity.
d.)Something that creates the possibility for the destruction of humanity is unethical.
e.)Ergo the nature of atoms is unethical.

When arguing about possibility it is necessary to provide reason for probability. I will argue that the probability for scenario X is marginal.
First we must realize that b/c we are weary of a catastrophe scientists will be sure to take all the necessary measures so that it doesn't happen. This alone greatly reduces the probability of such an event. Again, humans charted into unknown waters when they invented fire. It was possible for them to burn down their entire tribe, forest, etc. They soon learned that certain precautions were needed such as a stone circle to contain the fire. Knowing this greatly reduced the probability that they would burn anything down. Scientists will be sure to take the needed precautions. Another reason why the probability of catastrophe is low is that nature itself is constantly re-genetically engineering every species on the planet randomly. It does so all the time and no crazy mutants have popped up to destroy everything. (Ignoring the fact that everything is actually a mutant) Please note that humans with modified genes have simply changed their gene sequence. They still have human genes. We all have different gene sequences so there is no reason to suspect that they wouldn't be able to reproduce with "regular" humans.

What has also been overlooked is that if we are going to discuss the probability of destruction we should only do so in relation to the probability that humanity will achieve a greater level of being. Eradicating almost all diseases, creating healthier, happier, more prosperous human beings and a higher overall standard of living. Since this is the goal of g-modification the probability is fairly large. Is it worth risking our future b/c of a small likelihood that something may go wrong?

Just b/c a bad effect is possible does not make what could cause it unethical. Fire is not unethical. In order to make the claim that it is unethical the said effect must be HIGHLY probable. In fact that effect must have a higher probability than the probability that a good effect will occur. This is not the case for human g-modification.

The fourth argument once again fails to mention the probability of such an occurrence. But moreover it demonstrates a clear lack of understanding for the way life operates. Life is not a fine tuned machine that fails to work if one component is knocked out. The very reason why humans and anything else exist at all is b/c they have gone through many environmental changes. When the environment changes dramatically nearly all animals within a given species will die off, but some will survive and those that do will live on to repopulate the gap that was left by the ones who died off. There are innumerable examples of this and it is completely natural.
5.) Here we are with yet another possibility that is not very probable. Scientists will be able to choose which genes to modify. they are already doing this in other animals and plants. There is no reason to think that anyone would be able to distinguish a g-modified person from someone who isn't. Besides according to the law of accelerating returns human g-modification will become almost instantly ubiquitous within a few years from its conception. The law has demonstrated its accuracy with countless other inventions that are now ubiquitous. http://en.wikipedia.org...
IPOMonster

Pro

Zerosmelt - thank you for responding, I enjoyed reading your rebuttal!

1. COMPARING TOOLS, COMPUTERS, & HANDGUNS TO GENETIC MANIPULATION - My opponent drew a comparison between genetic engineering and "tools, weapons, fire, and computers". Comparing the genetic manipulation of human beings, which are living organisms, to the invention of a handgun is completely flawed. My opponent's argument is flawed because he is drawing a comparison to dead and inanimate objects. Power drills and handguns do not have millions of year's worth of genetically adapted DNA. A table saw cannot think for itself, nor can it reason. Our genetic code has enabled us to learn, how to adapt, and how to survive as a species. This has taken millions of year's worth of evolution. If we alter the barrel of a .357, we know the round will travel faster or slower. If I add more RAM to my computer, I know my computer will run faster. If we alter a cytosine molecule on a strand of human DNA, we do NOT know what will occur, nor can we prevent mutations, or control them.

If a wildfire rages out-of-control, we can extinguish it. If a genetic mutation rages out-of-control, do we extinguish that life? On the other hand, do we spend tens of millions to mitigate their right to life under the U.S. Constitution? If we protect their right to life, where would we house the experiments that "went wrong" in order to protect the public?

2. EXISTENCE OF GOD - Fortunately, I do not have to prove the existence of God. Whether God exists or not is completely moot. The simple fact is that tens of millions of people DO believe God exists. Therefore, if you want to gain public support for GE, millions of people will have to be convinced that genetic engineering IS ethical. This is highly unlikely because millions of Catholics, Christians, etc. have inherent beliefs that interfering with God's work is absolutely taboo. This adds to my earlier assertions pertaining to the negative impact GE would have on our society. My opponent states I used "clever phrasing" when citing the concerns from "people with religious beliefs". I would counter by saying it is dangerous and callous to ignore the resolute beliefs of millions.

3. GE USED AS ADVANCED WEAPONRY- I would like to add something else for us to consider when exploring the realm of GE. Let us not forget that man, with all his inventions, has always developed more efficient and more effective ways to kill. Therefore, it is highly probable that GE would be government-controlled, and then developed for use as a weapon. While one government may attempt to use it to help humanity, another may use it to destroy. People of a specific race, or religion, could be targeted for genetic manipulation. Theoretically, you could contaminate their future gene pool, or completely wipe them out.

4. NATURAL LIFE CYCLE – My opponent's rebuttal fails to address the claim that the increased lifespan of human beings could very well harm or cause the extinction of other plants, animals, or insects. My opponent claims other species will step-in to fill the gaps. Although some species may step-up, other species will be devastated. My opponent does not understand that this natural life cycle evolves over millions of years. The point is that nature herself determines what species has run its course on our planet. If man upsets this delicate balance, and causes the end of a species before its "natural time", we could cause the strain, or elimination of several different species.

5. LONG-TERM EFFECTS – In his rebuttal, my opponent failed to address the long-term dangers of genetic engineering. Since many effects may not present themselves for years, or over the course of several generations, this is cause for great concern.

My opponent's rebuttal to the possibility that GE could be harmful to humankind was to quote something from quantum mechanics that says, "The nature of atoms is such that at any moment it is possible for all the atoms in planet Earth to simultaneously converge to form a singularity, i.e. a black hole." This statement does not make any sense, nor does it have any relevance. In fact, it can be interpreted to imply that since anything can happen at anytime, let us just say, "Screw it" and move full steam ahead without any forethought or care as to the consequences of our actions.

My opponent concedes that there is indeed a risk with GE. However, he says it is a "marginal risk". There is no way he can prove that with certainty. My opponent says scientists will "be careful". However, no matter how careful we are, we cannot prevent human error, nor can we corral malicious intent. My opponent cited a source from Wikipedia. I would caution against citing Wikipedia since anyone can add information to this website.

Thanks again for providing such a great debate topic; I look forward to Round 3!
Debate Round No. 2
Zerosmelt

Con

First of all I would like to state the fact that my opponent is supposed to be arguing that GM is unethical. He has been straying from this point and I will illustrate. He keeps pointing out that we have a lack of knowledge and that there is the possibility for disaster. As I have already pointed out a lack of knowledge and the possibility for disaster is not enough grounds to claim something is unethical. I don't wish to rehash the same points but it seems necessary. At a point in human history we had a lack of knowledge about fire and fire had the possibility for disaster. We can see in hindsight however, that fire is not unethical.
I brought up the example from quantum mechanics NOT to say, ""Screw it" and move full steam ahead without any forethought or care as to the consequences of our actions." But instead to point out that just b/c something is possible doesn't mean that it's cause is unethical. The burden of proof is on my opponent to demonstrate a high degree of probability that a destructive event will occur. Only then can we qualify GM as unethical. Furthermore the fact that such an event is seen as possible will force scientists to proceed with Caution! They will NOT proceed "without care as to the consequences" My opponent has definitely misinterpreted me if he believes that is what I meant.

Rebuttals:

Re: 1.) a.) Genetic Modification is a type of modification. Modification of any type is an action. Actions are not animate or living. Actions do not have millions of year's worth of genetically adapted DNA. Actions cannot think or reason for themselves. GM, indeed, is an action that deals with animate, living beings just as handguns/tools deal with animate, living beings. It is not flawed to compare them.
b.) Scientists are discovering everyday how to manipulate specific genes.
c.) When fire was first discovered if it raged out-of-control humans could not extinguish it. But fire isn't and never was unethical.
d.) Society at large does not consider it unethical when civilians willingly volunteer themselves to the army and potentially sacrifice themselves for the general good of society. Likewise it wouldn't be unethical for people to volunteer and potentially sacrifice themselves for the general good of humanity in this cause.

Re: 2.) This debate is not about the likelihood of gaining support for GE. I am not in anyway providing a plan so that the millions of people against GE will accept it. I am only arguing that Genetic Modification is not unethical in practice. This argument shows a failure to address the point of the debate.

Re: 3.) Once again I am presented with a red herring. This is not an argument that GM is unethical but that people may use GM unethically. It in no way proves that GM is unethical. I may burn down my neighbor's house. That wouldn't be very ethical but fire is not unethical. I would be unethical.

Re: 4/5) Once again in order to claim that GM is unethical on these grounds my opponent must show NOT just that said scenarios are possible but that they are probable. (For the case of #5 one could easily imagine volunteers devoting their entire lifetime to studies before GM was allowed to become widespread.) (#4 completely relies on the notion that nature has an intent. I debunked this notion in the first round.)

It is quite possible that as soon as humans GModify themselves God will come down from the sky and proclaim, "Congratulations!!! You human beings have won the race. You see the meaning of life was to have all the species in an evolutionary race to see which one would be the first to g-modify itself. Human Beings have WON!! You beat all the other species so you get the ultimate prize; to become one with God for eternity."

And so it is possible, no one can deny, but if I am to make any claims about GM being ethical on this basis I need to show that it is not just possible but probable. Luckily I don't have to prove that GM is ethical just that it isn't unethical.

Either way I will provide two arguments that GM is not unethical..

Agrument [I]
If God exists then GM is ethical.
1.)If God exists He intended for the creation of:
- a.) The big bang
- b.) the galaxy
- c.) life
- d.) multicellular organisms
- e.) the Cambrian explosion
- f.) the first mammals
- g.) the first hominoids
- h.) homo sapiens/ intelligence
2.)When all of the points a-h are plotted on a graph of time they form an exponential function.
3.)It couldn't be because of coincidence that they all fit perfectly into this function so if God exists he must of intended for them to progress in this function.
4.)The following points of human development also fit perfectly into the exact same function:
- a.) First stone tools
- b.) Domestication of fire
- c.) Invention of agriculture
- e.) the wheel/writing
- f.) The Printing press
- g.) Industrial Revolution
- h.) Modern physics
- i.) DNA structure described, transistor invented
- j.) Internet, human genome sequenced
5.)Once again it could not be b/c of coincidence that all of these points of human development fit perfectly into the exact same function with all the other points God intended to occur.
6.)We can only conclude that God must have intended for all of these developments as well.
7.)The next logical point on the graph is Human Genetic Modification. B/c this point fits perfectly into the function we can only assume it is also part of His intention.
8.)B/c God must have intended for humans to GModify themselves it cannot be unethical.
Ref: http://www.singularity.com... These charts were created by MIT professor and world renown scientist Ray Kurzweil. (Plz note the graphs are in a logarithmic scale: http://www.answers.com...)

Argument [II]
I am about to purpose an argument that is distasteful to many people. I would like to remind everyone that just b/c something is distasteful to you does not mean it's not true. Truth can be very painful. There are many atheists on this website but I wonder how many here are willing to push naturalism to its ultimate conclusion.

a.) Contra-causal Freewill Does not Exist. (see below)
b.) If freewill does not exist then objective morality cannot exist b/c everything that happens had to happen.
c.) If objective morality does not exist than nothing is unethical.
d.) If nothing is unethical then GM cannot be unethical.

Argument against Freewill.
a.)Everything an individual Thinks and Does either has a cause or it doesn't.
b.)If any given thought or action has a cause then the individual was determined to commit said thought or action leaving no room for free will.
c.)If the individual's thought or action doesn't have a cause then it was completely random and couldn't have been through the use of free will.
d.)Therefore Free Will Does Not Exist.

An Explanation of Morality: leading scientists such as Michael Shermer, Marc Hauser and Joshua Greene have done studies that provide ample reason to believe that morality is a sensation that evolved inside us. At a point in human evolution humans were no longer capable of surviving in the wild alone without the aid of other humans. We needed to form groups to survive and morality is a feeling inside of us that evolved so we could live together. Someone without morals; who would cheat and steal from his own tribe was removed from the tribe. Since such individuals couldn't live alone in the wild they didn't carry on their lack of morality.
B/c morality is simply a sensation it does not exist objectively. So nothing is objectively unethical.
IPOMonster

Pro

IPOMonster forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3
5 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 5 records.
Posted by Chaos_Evolved 9 years ago
Chaos_Evolved
I'm sorry but religious belief should be stricken from this topic, religion is private, or at least should be, it shouldn't interfere with others.

If your belief in god restricts you from GE, then that's you, it's irrelevant in this topic.

Saying "A really old book with a lot of plotholes and contradictions SAYS that now with all the new stuff we have, we should limit this." Is just ridiculous.
Posted by IPOMonster 9 years ago
IPOMonster
Sorry I was unable to respond! I had to catch a flight out-of-state for a work emergency!

:(
Posted by Zerosmelt 9 years ago
Zerosmelt
Not enough room for the argument against homogeneity, perhaps we can discuss it in another debate.

anyway here something interesting for anyone who wants to know more about the exponential functions mentioned above.

http://www.ted.com...
Posted by Zerosmelt 9 years ago
Zerosmelt
I wanted to get into the argument about homogeneity but it will have to wait.
Posted by Rezzealaux 9 years ago
Rezzealaux
Hooray for End of Evangelion!
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Vote Placed by Xera 9 years ago
Xera
ZerosmeltIPOMonsterTied
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